We launched Sandpiper at Crab Creek near Tin Can Bay on Friday 1 August, the first time back on the water since Jervis Bay back in June. We did almost everything right and launched without incident, then motored our way down the tiny channel to deeper water. Tin Can Bay isn’t really a bay as such, but rather a series of deep mangrove inlets with associated creeks feeding into it. We followed the system north to overnight in a lovely spot called Pelican Bay. From here, we could see the steady parade of 4WDs lining up on the beach to cross over on the barge to Fraser Island. Beyond that lay the notorious Wide Bay Bar and the Coral Sea.
The Great Sandy Straits separate Fraser Island from the mainland. They are mostly shallow and low lying islands and mangrove thickets abound. A few deep channels travel the length of the straits and most are well marked with navigation aids. Sailing through the Great Sandy Straits is like navigating a hire car through a European city. It is a two person job, one on the tiller and the other keeping an eye on the chart and another eye out for the next mark. We had purchased a wonderful guide book published by the Queensland Government called “Beacon to Beacon” that became our bible for the ten days we were on the water. The scenery is constantly changing and the tidal races in the narrower channels are beautiful. In warmer weather, it would be a truly wonderful place, but for us, it was spoilt by the terrible weather we had to endure.
Most tourists get to see Fraser Island from the perspective of its eastern coast, a vast hard sand beach running the length of the island. Moving the length of the island is relatively easy with a 4WD. From the eastern beach, a number of tracks lead inland and criss cross the island, leading to various camping sites, beautiful fresh water lakes, rainforest pockets and abandoned logging mills. Most of the island is covered with glorious forest, once heavily logged, but now sporting an excellent coverage of regrowth. There is satinay, blackbutt, blue gum, scribbly gum, kauri pine, cyprus, banksia and many more species in abundance. Three accommodation areas have been established, each catering for different budgets. Eurong and Dili Village are on the eastern beach side of the island and Kingfisher Bay is the ritzy spot on the mainland side.
We ended up spending a bit of time at Kingfisher Bay Resort, at least anchored off shore from it. The place is welcoming of cruising people and in the summer would provide some great relief in the form of a pool and restaurant right down near the water. Another barge operates here, coming from River Heads near Urangan, and we found the comings and goings of the cars, trucks and buses to be an entertaining spectator sport. The barge actually comes in to a jetty then drops it vehicle ramp onto a specially built ramp, half way along. The vehicles rattle their way along the jetty. The jetty also serves as a fishing platform for the resort hopefuls. We often saw a very keen fisherman, the kind that wears a jacket adorned with the logos of fishing tackle suppliers, marching back and forth across the jetty directing his three very young boys in their fishing endeavours.
They were charged with catching his live bait and weren’t allowed to slack off at all. “You won’t catch a fish if you’re not in the water!” he admonished one boy. Christine was beside herself watching such young children be allowed to fish on the edge of a 5 metre high jetty with so little supervision.
Each day is bound around what clothing to wear, finding beanies, wet weather jackets, warm leggings etc. On a couple of occasions we got down to shorts and T-shirt, but these times were short lived, before the icy southerly started up again or the grey clouds and rain rolled in. When we had to go ashore, we dreaded having to put our feet in the water because it was so cold.
From Kingfisher Bay Resort, we hired a Land Cruiser for half a day and toured parts of the island. The forests were everything that was written about them, lush, green and incredibly beautiful. On the day we went, the eastern beach was a horror place, with many lines of huge breakers crashing down and a piping cold south easterly wind making life there unpleasant. The tracks across the island are pure sand, so undulating that the imposed 30km/hr speed limit makes perfect sense. Once on the beach, the limit blows out to 60km/hr but in our case we had to keep slowing to cross the numerous freshwater runoffs caused by all the recent rain.
Our favourite place was the strangely name Central Station, which I assumed to be just a ranger station, but proved to be the site of a small town and saw mill, operating in some form right up until 1992, when all logging ceased. There were a lot of very interesting displays, that showed the history of saw milling and logging on the island. The kauri pines and cyprus could be rafted out along the creeks and towed to the mainland, but the hard woods needed to be barged out. McKenzies Jetty, the ruins of which we had sailed past earlier, was built for just such a purpose.
From Central Station, there are a number of walk trails of varying length, but time was short and we had to content ourselves with a short walk along a wonderful wooden boardwalk built along the valley formed by Wanggoolba Creek. The vegetation was breath taking, with the most amazing birds-nest ferns clinging to the trunks of the towering trees and long streaming arboreal orchids in abundance. The creek itself was crystal clear, even after the heavy rain, the water having been thoroughly filtered through all the sand.
We had two main wildlife targets in the area. Fraser Island is famous for its dingoes. It is hardly possible to land anywhere on the island without seeing the warning signs about these savage creatures. We studied up on the drills, mentally focussing on the guidelines about keeping arms in close to the body, standing back to back, avoiding baying like a wolf and not carrying dog biscuits in your pockets. Alas, we didn’t see a dingo. Even on our trip around the island, visiting touristy areas where they are said to lie in wait, we avoided them. Once, while fishing near a beach, a lone female wandered down to check out if I’d left any bait, but because Christine didn’t see it, we can’t count it. It is now official! The Fraser Island dingoes are extinct. (Note: Two days after leaving Fraser, a man was stalked and attacked by three dingoes on one of the eastern beaches. Perhaps we were lucky not to encounter them.)
The other icon of the area is the Hervey Bay Humpback Whale. Ever since I first saw a documentary of Mimi McPherson, that lesser known sister of Elle, running whale watching tours in Hervey Bay, I wanted to come here. The hype is huge, the pictures glorious, the tourist potential unlimited. However, we didn’t see a whale. We sailed into Hervey Bay. Christine had listened to the latest radio whale report and we sailed right through the area where they were reported to be hanging out but they must have decided that a meeting with Sandpiper was not to be. Unfortunately, the weather conditions meant that we couldn’t give them a second chance so the humpbacks of Hervey Bay are also declared extinct.
We enjoyed some lovely anchorages, notably the popular Garry’s Anchorage, which is in a narrow channel between Fraser Island and Stewart Island. Weather conditions kept us in this lovely spot for a few days. The collection of 6 or 7 boats in the anchorage would have accounted for quite a few million dollars, of which our contribution was minimal. The size and number of luxury boats in the this part of the World is amazing. Catamarans are particularly common, mostly ranging between 9 and 12 meters. At times, while sailing through the straits, we could see five or six vessels doing what we were. I can’t imagine how busy it gets in peak times.
Another beautiful anchorage was at a place called Ungowa, once the site of a milling and sand exporting port. A number of wrecks lies on the beac or up Deep Creek, one being the Ceratondus, a sand carrying barge.
The Great Sandy Straits are excellent cruising waters, with plenty of safe anchorages, scenery to die for, excellent fishing and lots of wild life. I can see that crowds could be a definite problem but then that it happening everywhere these days. The area certainly deserves its World Heritage status.